Great new music can sometimes come from the most unexpected places. A month ago, I was sitting on a beach in Haiti drinking beer in the midst of the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise. Amongst my drinking companions that afternoon was a woman named Lina, who became fast friends with my wife because they’re both Lebanese. (Not to boast, but my wife is more Lebanese than kibbe, tabbouleh and grape leaves combined.) As we talked, Lina revealed that she is the manager of a Lebanese thrash band called Blaakyum, who toured with legendary British thrashers Onslaught in Europe last year. I was immediately intrigued, as the only Lebanese band with which I was previously familiar was Zix, a (quite good) traditional metal act signed to Pure Steel Records. The next day, back aboard the ship, we bumped into Lina again, and she handed me a copy of the Blaakyum CD that she had been carrying around for the express purpose of giving to me when she saw us next. I promised to give the album a listen and tell her what I thought.
I’ll be honest: My first spin through this ‘Line of Fear’ album was a bit rocky because I was expecting a straightforward thrash attack. That’s not what Blaakyum do. Sure, there are considerable thrash elements to their sound and it’s undoubtedly fair to recite thrash as the band’s sonic foundation, but Blaakyum are not at all one-dimensional in their craft. I hear bits and pieces of modern/groove, traditional metal, prog, and even some folk (more about that later) embedded in their songs. Equally varied is the vocal approach of singer/guitarist Bassem Deaibess, who goes from a powerful clean voice (reminiscent of Artillery’s ex-singer Soren Adamsen) to a harsh grunt to a more typical rough thrash shout, all within the same song. I was tempted to write off ‘Line of Fear’ as a bit too far outside my narrow stylistic box and move on. But I kept listening. The more I listened, the more I understood. And the more I understood, the more I dug Blaakyum’s music.
Ultimately, Blaakyum’s appeal is that their music is not only unique, but it works. I would describe it as akin to taking Artillery, Onslaught, mid-period Sepultura, and something out of left field like Orphaned Land, and tossing it all in a blender. The songs are powerful, the riffs are ripping (and, again, sometimes reminding me of recent Artillery or Onslaught), and the lyrics are a searing commentary on the harsh conditions of life for a heavy metal band trying to exist in an inhospitable political/social/religious climate. Lines like “Why should I follow your ways? I will forge my own way” or “Run away / because your freedom is gone” take on a deeper, more personal meaning when considered in the context in which Blaakyum wrote them. But the band’s secret weapon is a session musician named Elie Abou Abdo, who is credited with “tabla/oriental percussion.” What Abou Abdo has done is to add these intense, oriental/tribal sounding drum parts to a number of the songs. In the hands of a less skilled bunch of musicians, these “folk” touches would come across as cheesy, fake, or out of place. Not so here. Blaakyum have arranged their songs brilliantly in a manner that integrates the oriental percussion seamlessly, so that the listener feels it’s really part of the song, rather than just a cheap gimmick pasted onto the final mix in the recording studio as an afterthought. On track 7, “Freedom Denied,” the band incorporates even more pronounced Middle Eastern folk elements and some Arabic lyrics into their thrash recipe to create a simply stunning piece of music. Wow.
The end result is that Blaakyum don’t sound like any band I’ve ever heard before. To be sure, not everything on ‘Line of Fear’ works for me. I’m still a narrow-minded, old-school bastard who is loath to go outside my comfort zone. When I hear Blaakyum bust out modern/groove riffs, occasional blast beats and guttural vocals, I lose interest. But there’s so much more going on with ‘Line of Fear’ that I honestly don’t get too turned off by those elements. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is this: If you’re into thrash metal and have a hankering for something fresh and different from the faceless, nameless hordes of rethrash and modern thrash clones out there, Blaakyum may just be the cure for what ails you. They have developed a refreshing take on the genre that incorporates not only the musical and cultural elements of their homeland, but also the deep-seated rage they feel towards the oppressive society in which they live. It was a happy accident that I made Lina’s acquaintance on the 70000 Tons cruise, and I have been enjoying the hell out of Blaakyum’s ‘Line of Fear’ album. Check it out.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~